My wife Kathy recently shared the story of Jordan DeRosier with me. Her 7-months old baby boy suffocated and died because of a blanket she put in his crib for bedtime. This is a tragic and heartbreaking story that shall remind us to keep baby’s crib free of toys, blankets, and crib bumpers to reduce the risk of SIDS and accidental suffocation.
He was last laid down to bed with this blanket made by his great-great grandmother, and one other blanket, a grey one he had been attached to since birth. They took the grey one he had been found with his head in. He had pulled it through the crib rails somehow and gotten himself stuck in it. You never think it will happen to you. You never think it will be your baby. Please do not put your babies to bed with a blanket. Please. He was 7 months old, I thought because he was crawling, standing on his own, and climbing, that he would be fine with a blanket.
This is the face of immense, unfathomable grief, the face of longing, of heartbreak, of self inflicted GUILT. I will NEVER stop feeling responsible. I will relive this for the rest of my life knowing EXACTLY what I could have done differently. Please learn from my world shattering mistake.
Will this story make a difference?
Every day, people do things that they know will cause them harm. People smoke, despite the crystal-clear evidence that smoking causes cancer. People poison their bodies with unhealthy food, even though we know that they could prevent most chronic disease by eating a healthy diet. Telling those folks what they are doing could cost them their life will not make them change their habits. So why bother?
I care because it makes a difference if you risk your own life or the life of an innocent child, who relies on you to make the right decisions. Regardless, many parents will read this article and continue placing toys, blankets, pillows, crib bumpers and countless other “cute” but potentially lethal items in their baby’s crib. But if I can only reach one parent who, after reading this, clears out the crib and thus reduces the risk of SIDS or SUID, it was worth the time spent writing this article.
What the heck is SUID?
Most parents have (or at least, should have) heard of the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), the sudden but unexplained death of an infant. Recently, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) introduced a new acronym called SUID, which stands for the Sudden Unexpected Infant Death. SUID is an umbrella term that includes SIDS, accidental death (such as suffocation), and sudden natural deaths (i.e., due to metabolic disease).
In the last 20 years, the number of deaths classified as SIDS has decreased. At the same time, the number of deaths due to accidental suffocation has increased in the United States. In total, about 4,000 infants die each year while sleeping. That’s 4,000 too many innocent lives lost and a lot of, mostly preventable, grieve and suffering.
Do we know the causes of SIDS?
No, we don’t, at least not exactly. But what we do know is that the death rate of SIDS has significantly dropped in the US from 530.3 per 100,000 live births in 1990 to 39.4 in 2015. That improvement was mainly thanks to initiatives that promoted putting babies to sleep on their back instead of their stomach. The most prominent initiatives include the Back to Sleep campaign, the Healthy Child Care America Campaign, and the Safe Sleep campaign.
If you are about my age (35) or older, chances are your parents put you to sleep on your tummy. According to my childhood photos, I was frequently put to sleep on my stomach and crib was anything but bare. Our parents just didn’t know any better and research into SIDS was still in its infancy (no pun intended).
But today, we know better, and we have the results to prove that putting a baby to sleep on her back, massively reduces the risk of death. Unfortunately, old traditions are die hard, and you may have parents or grandparents who are adamant about putting your baby to sleep on her stomach. It’s your job, as a parent, to resist and educate. Your child’s life depends on it!
The baby should be placed in a crib with no cover, pillows, bumper pads or positioning devices. (AAP)
How common is SIDS?
Despite all the progress we have made to reduce the risk of SIDS, it’s disturbing to see that the number of infants who die due to suffocation or strangulation while sleeping has been on the rise. Last year, the CDC recorded the highest rate of 23.1 deaths per 100,000 live births due to accidental death while sleeping.
That’s shocking and to a great extent because of parents are not aware of or ignore the real risk associated with blankets, pillows, toys or crib bumpers. Below are the four simple rules of the American Association of Pediatrics on how to put a baby to sleep safely:
- Don’t smoke – Don’t expose your baby to cigarette smoke before or after birth.
- Place in bare crib – The baby should be placed in a crib with no cover, pillows, bumper pads or positioning devices.
- Place on Back to Sleep – Always place your baby, day or night on his back to sleep.
- Don’t Bed-Share – Never fall asleep with your baby in your bed or a chair or sofa.
These rules are no-brainers, and there is no excuse not to comply with them. The first three rules are clearly and undeniably under our (parental) control. And while I don’t encourage sharing a bed with an infant, both my wife and I snoozed off on occasion while feeding the baby in the middle of the night or doing skin-to-skin in the morning. That shouldn’t have happened, and fortunately, nobody was harmed. But it did happen, and like many other sleep-deprived parents, we didn’t consciously make the decision to sleep with our babies, it just happened, unfortunately. If you are considering co-sleeping, talk to your pediatrician, as there are ways and devices to do it safely.
A new perspective on how vulnerable sleeping infants are
Lucas, our baby boy, was born prematurely at 30 weeks and six days. He spent 57 days in the NICU, connected to heart rate and blood oxygen monitors. Fortunately, he was and still is a healthy baby but like many other newborns, especially preemies, he suffered from the occasional sleep apnea. That means he intermittently stopped breathing, only to resume it a few seconds later.
As scary as it may sound, it is normal and nothing to be alarmed of. In fact, you may never notice those episodes of sleep apnea at home with a healthy baby. Of course, we did notice it because Lucas was connected to monitors that would start beeping as soon as his blood oxygen level or heart rate would drop. I remember the first time that happened while I was holding him skin-to-skin. It wasn‘t a pleasant feeling when the heart rate alarm went off, he lost all muscle tone, and his skin turned grayish. But you get used to it, and the next time it happened, I just stimulated him by rubbing his back to stimulate him. He resumed breathing a few seconds later.
The moral of this experience is that infants are vulnerable, especially while sleeping. It’s our job to make sure they have the safest possible environment.
Tips for struggling parents
To help struggling parents I would like to share some tips based legitimate concerns that we have run into or that I have heard from other parents.
The baby may get cold at night and thus needs a blanket
Babies can’t tell us if their room is too hot or cold. I know that‘s a challenge for many parents as it was for us. According to Judith Owens, a Pediatric Sleep Export, the ideal room temperature for baby‘s room is between 65 – 70 Fahrenheit (18 – 22 Celsius). But even with that knowledge, it’s not always easy to keep the nursery at that temperature. Smart thermostats with remote sensors, such as the Ecobee* or room monitors*, such as the one from First Alert*, can help. In fact, we use both to monitor our kids‘ rooms and make sure the temperature stays in a certain range overnight. If it doesn’t, the AC or heating automatically come on and I get an alert on my phone.
But as a general rule of thumb, dress your baby in layers. If you wear two layers at night (pajamas and a sheet), dress your baby in one additional layer. That could mean: A onesie, a pajama, and a sleep sack or swaddle blanket. Keep in mind that newborns can quickly overheat because they don’t sweat. So it‘s better to err on the side of a cooler room temperature. I am not talking about freezing temperatures, but if the room is a bit too cold, your baby may burn more calories to keep her core temperature up. If the room is too hot or if you dress your baby in too many layers, she may overheat, which could have much worse consequences than losing a few calories.
Sleep sacks and swaddle blankets
For newborns, I highly recommend swaddling, if you do it right. For older babies, we have made an excellent experience with sleep sacks from HALO*. Both methods are safe and ensure that baby doesn‘t get cold.
Besides being a major risk factor, blankets are of no use for babies. They move a lot while sleeping and you can be sure that the blanket doesn‘t stay put and instead, may end up covering baby‘s face.
For the sake of your baby‘s life, take that blanket out of the crib and use a swaddle blanket* or sleep sack.
We use a crib bumper, so baby doesn’t bang her head or get stuck
I don‘t know about you, but I take a bruise or a stuck leg over the genuine risk of death any day. Crib bumpers significantly increase the risk of SIDS or suffocation while providing zero benefits that not even remotely outweigh the risks.
My baby can’t sleep without her favorite toy
Infants, after the age of three months, can learn how to console themselves. That’s an incredibly important skill for them to learn. They don’t need toys or other gadgets – often not even a pacifier.
So don‘t take the opportunity away from your baby to learn how to self-soothe. By allowing your baby to acquire that skill, you also reduce the risk of suffocation. That sounds like a win-win situation to me.
Doling out parenting advice is a delicate matter. Like most other parents, we have made plenty of mistakes. And it‘s not always easy to accept those mistakes, especially when someone else points them out. But there is no reason to take offense. There is, however, a reason to learn from the mistakes of others and to offer your child a safe sleeping environment. I hope I could make that point clear. So take a look at your baby‘s crib and, if necessary, remove the risk factors mentioned above.
Last but not least, I would like to say that the risk of SIDS dramatically decreases after a baby‘s first birthday. In other words, Lucas is now almost 17-months old (corrected) and has 1-2 stuffed animals in his crib.